For now, don't expect much to change in MidEast

By Yossi Alpher, September 15, 2011
Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

As matters stand, the Palestinian bid for recognition at the United Nations later this month is likely to have little immediate effect on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Of course, on this issue matters do not "stand" but rather are very dynamic. Hence the following must be taken as an attempt to assess this fast-moving issue as of today - not tomorrow, and not next week.

Right now, the PLO appears to be moving in one of two directions, each of which could turn the UN drama into a virtual non-event. One strong possibility is that the Palestinian leadership will yield to European pressure, particularly from the UK, France and possibly Germany, and agree to a General Assembly decision to award Palestine observer state ("Vatican") status. Conceivably, a few balancing provisions will be added for Israel's benefit, such as a demand to negotiate all outstanding issues bilaterally and not appeal to international judicial bodies whose decisions only isolate and anger Israel further.

The other possibility, alluded to yesterday in Ramallah by Dr Muhammad Shtayeh, a senior Fatah official, is that the PLO will insist on applying not to the General Assembly but to the Security Council, with the understanding that, rather than face an immediate United States veto, the application would be submitted to a committee - a process that could drag on for weeks or months and that would freeze any alternative Palestinian approach to the General Assembly for the duration. Significantly, Shtayeh recalled yesterday in a positive vein that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was granted UN membership by the Security Council only on its third application.

Either of these scenarios would be anticlimactic. Either would likely enable both Europe and the US to prevent any punitive action - eg, denying vital funding - towards the Palestinian Authority, including by Israel. Both constitute a potential face-saving way-out for the PLO that would enable it to point ostensibly to a diplomatic achievement yet without incurring material damage.

Whether either scenario, or for that matter any other scenario, would get the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships back into the negotiating room for meaningful talks is doubtful.

But that's another story. The real meaning of the Palestinian UN initiative is that the Oslo process has, after 18 years, run its course. It's time to replace it with an Israeli-Palestinian state-to-state negotiating framework that focuses first and foremost on borders, territory, security and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. Such a "win-win" resolution would be the ideal outcome at the United Nations. It looks very unlikely.

Yossi Alpher is co-editor of and former director of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University

Last updated: 1:40pm, September 15 2011